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Just Happy to be Able to Continue Playing Rugby

Posted May. 18, 2005 23:22,   


“I am happy for the simple fact that I can keep playing freely.”

Those are the words of Lee Myung-geun (27, shown in picture) who played a key role in Korea winning gold medals at the 2002 Pusan Asian Games in seven-a-side and 15-a-side rugby.

Although he still belongs to the Korean national rugby team, his main playing ground is not Korea but Hong Kong. That is because no team called him after he was discharged from the military sports unit. There are three semi-pro teams in Korea – Samsung SDI, Korea Electric Power Company, and Pohang Coated Steel Corporation (POCOS) – but no spots for him.

At an age when he should be playing, he quit the sport and worked as a coach for a high school team. However, he grasped the opportunity to return to action when he met with IRB’s (International Rugby Board) Asian Regional Development Manager Jarrad Gallagher (36, New Zealand National). Gallagher saw Lee’s potential and helped him sign up with Hong Kong’s pro team, Synovate HKCC Aberdeen. Hong Kong’s rugby is a level lower than Korean rugby. Nevertheless, he was not in a position to hold his pride as the national player for Asia’s best rugby-playing country. He was just grateful to be able to play.

“A player is worth existing when he is on the field. I would have liked to play in the Korean semi-pros. Now, I will find a way, for me and junior players, to survive playing rugby abroad.”

Lee played with his entire body and soul, and made his talents recognized as he led his team to winning the 2004~2005 Hong Kong Rugby Club League. The problem is that Hong Kong’s rugby season is from October to March. During the off-season he has to make a living doing something else. He plans to make his way by teaching young players in Hong Kong clubs starting this July.

“There are about 20 national-team-level players, besides me, that have no team and have nowhere to play. But we can’t just lament on this situation. Hong Kong is just a start. I’ll work hard so I can play in rugby powerhouses such as New Zealand, Australia, and England.”

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com